When the Storm Breaks
by Heather Lowell
(Harper Torch, $7.50, PG) ISBN 0-06-054212-8
****
When the Storm Breaks is Heather Lowell’s romantic suspense debut. The author is the daughter of Elizabeth Lowell. That should say it all but, in addition, the younger Lowell starts at a place where many seasoned authors can only hope to evolve.

Overachieving Claire Lambert has little time to cultivate a social life and is persuaded by her friend to try Camelot Dating Service. She visits them after work and is vacillating, so they show her the photos of the dating pool hoping to persuade her. Leaving late, Clairee cuts across a schoolyard to catch a bus and comes upon a man killing a woman. Dropping her purse, she runs after the killer, falls, and knocks herself unconscious.

Sean Richter is a detective with the Homicide Cold Case Unit and a friend tips him off that this murder is similar to a case he is working that involves the death of young Hispanic women who live on the seamy side of life. This victim has the same type of wounds and fits the profile, except she is a teacher.

Sean is hoping the witness will be able to help him identify the killer. He camps out at the hospital until she wakes up, only to find that Claire has no memory after the time she reached Camelot. However, she is exceedingly vulnerable since the killer has her purse containing her name and address.

The only clue Claire can provide is that she almost remembers the killer’s smile. Finally Sean and his partner conclude that she may have seen him in a photograph that Camelot Dating Service had shown her. Pressure mounts on the police department to find the killer, and they set Claire up as bait. By arranging dates with men whose photographs strike some chord with her, they hope to score. One would think the police would have to be really desperate to invest so much time and money on such a slim prospect, but what follows is a prolonged course in what is familiar to most females - the perils of blind dates

The only negative to When the Storm Breaks is it drags through this section. It is clear that the author understands pacing, since after this slow time, the novel quickly changes gears and speeds to a conclusion with incredible tension.

Throughout the novel Lowell works on developing layers of all her characters, and integrates their emotional baggage into their identity without being tedious or onerous. The dialogue is excellent - crisp, and in places humorous. Lowell shifts scenes logically and seamlessly and adds interesting twists to the pursuit of a serial killer plot line.

All of us have read variations of this plot, but what makes When the Storm Breaks memorable is the deft way the author creates and sustains both the sexual tension between Claire and Sean, and the nearing of the serial killer to his proposed next victim, Claire.

When the Storm Breaks is a definite recommend, and congratulations for a job well extremely done to a first time author.

--Thea Davis


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